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Courtesy Prof. Danny Nadel

Jewishpress.com

 

The earliest evidence of alcohol production, some 13,000 years ago, was discovered in the Rakefet Cave in Mount Carmel, in a joint study by researchers from the University of Haifa and Stanford University. The alcohol, probably a kind of beer made from fermented grains, was produced by the Natufians, who lived in the region at that time. This brewery precedes by five thousand years the earliest site to date, in northern China.

The Epipaleolithic Natufian culture existed from around 13,050 to 7,550 BCE in the Levant. The culture was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities may be the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements in the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. The Natufians are believed to have founded Jericho, considered by many to be the oldest city in the world. Some evidence suggests deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture, at Tell Abu Hureyra, in northern Syria, the site of earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. The world’s oldest evidence of bread-making has been found at Shubayqa, a 14,500 year old site in Jordan’s northeastern desert.

Mount Carmel was one of the most important and crowded areas in the system of Natufian settlements, and sites in the Carmel and surrounding areas have been studied by archaeologists from the University of Haifa for decades.

“The Rakefet Cave does not stop offering new discoveries about the wonderful Natufian culture,” said Prof. Danny Nadel of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, who leads the excavations. “We have already discovered that they buried their dead and that they lined the graves with a bed of flowers. We discovered their technological capabilities through a variety of tools and now we find that they produced beer and consumed it, apparently at special ceremonies.”

Another finding at the Rakefet Cave site were dozens of craters carved several centimeters deep in the rock, dating back 13,000 years.

The new study, a collaboration between Prof. Danny Rosenberg of the ancient stone tools laboratory at the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa and researchers from Stanford University, focused on a microscopic examination of the remains found in these three craters, of starches and phytoliths (rigid, microscopic structures made of silica, found in some plant tissues and persisting after the decay of the plant) containing traces of precipitation.

The first test showed evidence of several different grains stored in the same craters, including wheat, barley, oatmeal, legumes and flax.

A microscopic examination two of the three craters showed microscopic remains of starch grains that underwent morphological changes which correspond to changes in starch during fermentation. The evidence shows that the craters were used to store grains before and after fermentation.

In the third crater, evidence was found that it was used for storage, but also as a receptacle in which grain could be beaten and crushed, a necessary stage in fermentation.

According to the researchers, the grains were apparently stored in baskets that made it easier to remove and feed the grains into the craters, evidenced by the remnants of fibers found at the bottom of the craters. A microscopic examination showed evidence that the fibers were rotated and processed to fit the pattern of woven baskets.

“The creation of these craters in the stone, and then the necessary actions to produce alcohol required great effort and professionalism, which attests to the great ceremonial importance that the Natufian culture related to the production of alcohol,” Prof. Nadel concluded, speculating that “since they were the first to invest considerable effort in their burial rituals, it is not inconceivable that the production and consumption of alcohol were also part of the Natufian burial ceremonies.”

 

 

 

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East side of the Barbegal mill complex looking north. The buildings on the left are the millbuildings where the grain was milled, the higher walls and basins on the right are the waterbasins of the mill complex that housed the water wheels. Robert Fabre, Saint Etienne du Grès, France

original article:

Populararchaeology

New information about one of the first industrial complexes in history revealed.

Analyzing carbonate deposits from a second century AD Roman watermill site – thought to be one of the first industrial complexes in human history – has revealed characteristics of the mill, including its nonuse for several months of the year. These findings suggest that the Barbegal mill site was not the Roman city of Arelate’s main flour supplier as hypothesized, but rather it was likely used to produce non-perishable “ship’s bread” for the many ancient ships that visited the major ports of Arles during certain times of the year. These findings shed light on the variable uses of ancient mills, as well as on their maintenance and on the destruction of the related sites, information that has otherwise been hard to decipher for these ancient formations. Over the past decades, the unearthing of Roman mill sites has offered proof of notable innovation during the Roman times, especially in the field of hydraulics. A key example of such a watermill is located at Barbegal, in southern France. However, since its discovery in 1937, little has been revealed about its unique history. Gül Sürmelihindi and colleagues sought to discern more about the mill’s use by analyzing 142 carbonate deposits from the complex. Formed on the now decayed wooden parts of the watermill that had been in contact with karst springs, these carbonates can preserve information of the environment of the complex. The fragment samples can be split into two groups: large carbonate slabs that formed in water channels that turned the wheel (millrun flumes) and deposits that had formed on the wooden part of the wheel. Stable isotope analyses of oxygen and carbon showed a distinct, cyclical pattern in the deposits, suggesting interruptions of the water flow during the late summer and autumn, a pattern of activity in accordance with Roman shipping activities, the authors say. Roman shipping usually halted in late autumn, meaning flour production to support shipping could have subsided then, too. Thus, they propose that the mill’s main use was not for widely consumed flour but specifically to produce non-perishable ship’s bread.

 

Mill basin of the Barbegal mill with carbonate deposits.
Robert Fabre, Saint Etienne du Grès, France

 

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Hikmet Budak, Winifred Asbjornson Plant Sciences Chair, is one of 200 international scientists who co-published an article this week detailing the description of the genome of bread wheat. The implications of the publication include greater food security.

Source: MSU plant sciences faculty part of international discovery in wheat genome sequence

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Beer-drinking cups being excavated at Khani Masi held some of the earliest chemical evidence of beer. Researchers had to take extra precautions to avoid contaminating the cups with modern compounds. (Courtesy Sirwan Regional Project)

Original article:

Smithsonianmag.com

Researchers are working on resurrecting the recipe

 

Archaeologists have long known beer was important in the ancient world, but mainly from writings and drawings—finding actual archaeological evidence of the fermented beverage has been a major challenge.

But archaeologists have now employed a new technique to detect beer residues in nearly 2,500-year-old clay cups dug up in a site in northern Iraq.

“What Elsa [Perruchini] has demonstrated is the chemical signature of fermentation in the vessels that also contains the chemical signatures consistent with barley,” says Claudia Glatz, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Glasgow and a coauthor of a study published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “Putting those together is the interpretation that this is barley beer.”

The use of the technique will likely prove groundbreaking, giving archaeologists a chance to find beer at other excavations. But it is also helping Glatz and Perruchini, a PhD archaeology student at the university and the lead author of the study, understand more about the Babylonian Empire’s outer reaches during a period of cultural upheaval.

Archaeologists have long known beer has been around in Mesopotamia from iconography which showed beer drinking and references to the beverage in old accounting texts describing beer given as rations. Among the best known examples are those found in the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi dating to roughly 1800 BC. A beer recipe in the form of a poem, the text praises the beer goddess Ninkasi for soaking malt in a jar and spreading mash on reed mats, among other things.

Further references to beer can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh – a Mesopotamian poem considered the oldest surviving work of literature—in which Enkidu, a “wild man” who grew up in the forest, drinks seven jugs of beer and decides he likes civilization enough to become Gilgamesh’s sidekick.

“[Beer] is a quintessential Mesopotamian food stuff,” says Glatz. “Everyone drank it but it also has a social significance in ritual practices. It really defines Mesopotamian identities in many ways.”

The earliest physical trace of beer dates back to the late fourth millennium BC in present day Iran at a site called Godin Tepe, where archaeologists found what is known as beerstone, a chemical byproduct related to the brewing process and visible to the eye, on ancient ceramic material.

But Perruchini got downright microscopic, examining the chemicals present in the residues clinging to the clay of old cups and jars. She and Glatz are involved with a larger archaeological project at the site, called Khani Masi, exploring the evidence of imperial expansion of the Babylonians into the Diyala River valley. The area, in present day Kurdistan in northern Iraq, is key because it formed a travel hub, connecting the lowlands where some of the world’s first cities and imperial powers were formed with the resource-rich Zagros Mountains.

“Those are very important long distance exchange routes that are leading through this area,” Glatz says.

The excavated section of Khani Masi Perruchini and Glatz are working on dates from 1415 BC to 1290 BC, the late Bronze Age, according to the material evidence such as pottery and the evidence of burial practices excavated. Perruchini was interested in seeing how the people who lived in the area identified culturally, and what better way to get to the bottom of this than examining the food and drink they consumed?

Perruchini says that she first tried to use more traditional chemistry techniques to test the residues, but found the results had been contaminated.

“During an excavation, usually people are touching everything, so it’s going to leave residuals on it,” she says.

One particularly troublesome contaminant comes from the sunscreen often used in sun-drenched digs. As Perruchini notes, some chemical compounds in sunscreen are similar to wine, which could be confusing archaeologists in some cases.

Perruchini decided to take the lab directly to the field, handling freshly excavated bowls or cups with gloves to get more reliable results before anyone else got their hands on them.

“This isn’t something that is discussed a whole lot in the organic residue work in archaeology,” Glatz says. “So Elsa’s method is actually very important in gaining reliable archaeological results – that is not something that has happened so much in the past.”

Perruchini then analyzed the distinct compounds of the residues using gas chromatography, a technique that separates the various compounds present in a mixture. Gas chromatography had not been used in archaeology to examine a collection of compounds to identify something like beer, and the method allowed her to get very specific in her analysis. The team could ignore any contemporary chemicals, while an analysis of soil samples taken from outside the clay vessels allowed them to rule out any soil contamination which could have affected the residues over the past two millennia and “only focus on archaeologically significant compounds.” They then compared the remaining compounds with residues left from modern-day beer samples and found they matched.

“It’s actually very affordable,” Perruchini says about the process, adding that other archaeologists should be able to repeat her technique to identity beer or other residues in ancient remains.

“They were really able to get a gold mine of information out of these pots,” says Mara Horowitz, an archaeology lecturer at Purchase College at the State University of New York who was not involved in the recent work. “It looks like they have done what we’ve all been dreaming about doing.”

She adds that it’s a pity that so many cups already excavated can no longer be examined in this way, since they have likely already been contaminated by modern chemicals.

Augusta McMahon, a reader in Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Cambridge, agrees that many archaeologists – herself included – haven’t been careful enough when handling old pots and other material evidence, other than keeping certain objects within the protocols required for radiocarbon dating. She added the study was “very exciting” and “good science.”

But both McMahon and Horowitz are also interested in the social aspect of the study and what it means.

According to iconography and excavations from sites older than Khani Masi, Mesopotamians usually drank beer from straws in a larger communal jar around the third millennium BC. But in the subsequent millennium, these larger beer jugs start to give way to individual vessels.

“We have this explosion of a very diverse range of drinking cups,” Glatz says, adding that archaeologists in the past assumed the “daintier vessels” were used for wine. But their chemical analysis shows they held beer.

Horowitz says that the shift to these cups gives archaeologists a sense of social processes, as well as marks of status and power depending on the degree of work that went into their design.

“Interactions at a site like Khani Masi can really give us a sense of what’s going on in a local scale,” she says.

Khani Masi was contemporary with the Kassite rule of the Babylonian empire in Mesopotamia and likely under Kassite control. The Kassites, who likely originated from the Zagros Mountains, assimilated many of the previous Mesopotamian cultural traditions and had diplomatic relations with other empires such as the Assyrians and the Egyptians.

“Khani Masi very much looks like another outpost if you like, or a settlement of Kassite origin in some ways,” Glatz says. But their analysis of the cups shows that while it may have sat near the edges of the empire, the locals drank beer similar to other Mesopotamians, indicating that cultural practices from the center of the empire had spread to the fringes.

Beer was important to the Mesopotamians because the malting process helps to preserve the grains for longer, while fermentation increased the grains’ nutritional value.

Or, in the words of McMahon, “It’s what most people drink because the water is not so good.”

Of course, the mild buzz was a draw, too – even the Hymn to Ninkasi notes the wonderful feeling and blissful mood of drinking beer.

Without a fridge handy, the stuff wouldn’t have lasted very long. “Mesopotamians would have been brewing beer constantly,” Glatz says.

The question on everyone’s minds, of course, is how the beer tasted. Perruchini and more of Glatz’s students are attempting to find out by brewing beer using techniques described in the Hymn to Ninkasi and ingredients which they think would lead to residues similar to those they’ve found at Khani Masi.

The trouble is, there were a number of types of beer described in old Mesopotamian texts, whether golden, red or dark ales, and Perruchini and her colleagues are uncertain of all the ingredients. Unlike other researchers who recently tried to reproduce 4,000-year old Hittite beer with tasty results, Perruchini says that they have not even tasted the stuff they brewed in their class yet.

“It smells so terrible,” she says

 

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Archaeologists have discovered seeds for the brewing of beer

 

Original Article:

tornosnews.gr

Ancient Greeks may be known for their love of wine, but it seems they also had an affinity to beer, according to a study by the Aristotle University of the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Two Bronze Age brewers that were recently unearthed prove that Greeks would brew beer on a regular basis 4,000 years ago.

Archaeologists from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki located several archaeobotanical remains of a cereal that could have been used in beer brewing. Similar remains found in the Archontiko area in the island of Corfu were also discovered in Argissa in Zakynthos.

At Archontiko, archaeologists found about 100 individual cereal seeds dating back to the early Bronze Age from 2100 to 2000 BC. In Argissa, they found about 3,500 cereal seeds going back to the Bronze Age, approximately from 2100 to 1700 BC.

Moreover, archaeologists discovered a two-room structure that seems to have been carefully constructed to maintain low temperatures in the Archontiko area, suggesting it was used to process the cereals for beer under the right conditions.

This discovery is the earliest known evidence of beer consumption in Greece, but not in the planet.

One of the oldest beverages humans have produced

Beer is one of the oldest beverages humans have produced, dating back to at least the 5th millennium BC in Iran, and was recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and spread throughout the world.

As almost any cereal containing certain sugars can undergo spontaneous fermentation due to wild yeasts in the air, it is possible that beer-like beverages were independently developed throughout the world soon after a tribe or culture had domesticated cereal. Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars reveal that beer was produced as far back as about 7,000 years ago in what is today Iran. This discovery reveals one of the earliest known uses of fermentation and is the earliest evidence of brewing to date. In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of beer is believed to be a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicting people drinking a beverage through reed straws from a communal bowl. A 3900-year-old Sumerian poem honouring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, contains the oldest surviving beer recipe, describing the production of beer from barley via bread. In China, residue on pottery dating from between 5400 and 4900 years ago shows beer was brewed using barley and other grains.

The invention of bread and beer has been argued to be responsible for humanity’s ability to develop technology and build civilization.The earliest chemically confirmed barley beer to date was discovered at Godin Tepe in the central Zagros Mountains of Iran, where fragments of a jug, from between 5400 and 5000 years ago was found to be coated with beerstone, a by-product of the brewing process.

Beer may have been known in Neolithic Europe as far back as 5,000 years ago, and was mainly brewed on a domestic scale.

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Lets here it for technology. If not for such advancements, we would never have come this far in our discovery of the foods Paelolithic man really ate. Imagine the discoveries that were just thrown on the  trash heap because archaeologist at the time had no idea plant material could survive this long. Think of the grinding stones that were washed, all their valuable information of the past…gone forever!

Original article:

The guardian.com

Nicola DavisMon 16 Jul 2018 15.00 EDT

Tiny specks of bread found in fireplaces used by hunter-gatherers 14,000 years ago, predating agriculture by thousands of years

Charred crumbs found in a pair of ancient fireplaces have been identified as the earliest examples of bread, suggesting it was being prepared long before the dawn of agriculture.

The remains – tiny lumps a few millimetres in size – were discovered by archaeologists at a site in the Black Desert in north-east Jordan.

Using radiocarbon-dating of charred plant materials found within the hearths, the team found the fireplaces were used just over 14,000 years ago.

“Bread has been seen as a product of agriculturist, settled societies, but our evidence from Jordan now basically predates the onset of plant cultivation … by at least 3,000 years,” said Dr Tobias Richter, co-author of the study from the University of Copenhagen, noting that fully-fledged agriculture in the Levant is believed to have emerged around 8,000 BC.

“So bread was being made by hunter-gatherers before they started to cultivate any plants,” he said.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Richter and colleagues from Denmark and the UK describe how during excavations between 2012 and 2015 they found the crumbs in the fireplaces of a site used by hunter-gatherers known as Natufians, who foraged for wild grains.

Among the remains, the team unearthed small, round tubers of a wetland plant known as club-rush, traces of legumes and plants belonging to the cabbage family, wild cereals including some ground wheat and barley – and 642 small charred lumps.

Analysis of 24 of these lumps revealed they are bread-like – with the others expected to be similar.

“They are charred breadcrumbs, sort of what you might find at the bottom of your toaster at home – the sort of stuff that falls off when you put it on high power,” said Richter.

Further analyses revealed that 15 of the 24 crumbs contain tissues from cereal plants – probably, says Richter, from barley, einkorn wheat or oats.

Some of the crumbs were also found to contain ingredients from other plants, with the team saying club-rush tuber is the most likely candidate.

What’s more, the analysis of the crumbs suggests the flour used to make the bread might have been sieved, while the team say the lack of an oven means the bread was probably baked in the ashes of the fire, or on a hot stone.

The team say the crumbs appear most likely to be from a sort of unleavened flat bread.

While the newly discovered crumbs are now the earliest bread remains found so far, taking the title from remains found at the site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey and dated to about 9,100 years ago, the team say the food might have emerged even earlier.

“Food remains have long been ignored in archaeology, and therefore have not been sufficiently studied,” said Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, first author of the study from the University of Copenhagen. “I’m sure that if we look at older sites, we may find bread-like cereal products during the Paleolithic [for example] 25,000 years ago.”

Richter said it is unlikely the bread found at the Natufian site was consumed as a staple, given it would have been very labour intensive to gather and process the grains. While the team suggest the bread could have been made by the hunter-gatherers for their onward journey, they say other evidence adds weight to the idea it could have been part of a feast or ritual event.

“[The older fireplace] also had a number of gazelle [bones] in it from at least a dozen or more animals as well as water birds and hare,” said Richter. “So it looks like a bit of a meal [shared] between a larger group of people, like a little feast that was then discarded in the fireplace.”

Amy Bogaard, professor of Neolithic and bronze age archaeology at the University of Oxford and who was not involved in the research, described the study as fascinating. “We previously knew that these communities were grinding and preparing plants in various ways, but this study is the first to identify actual bread-like remains of this early date,” she said. “ In terms of food history, it suggests that preparation of flatbread-like foods long predates the establishment of agriculture, and that farming in this region emerged within a pre-established culture of grinding and baking.”

While the team have yet to recreate the recipe, Richter says they have tried bread made with club-rush tubers, offering a clue as to how the ancient bread might have tasted.

“It tastes a little bit salty, so it is probably not to our particular tastes in the present,” he said.

 

 

 

 

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Researchers stored 17th-century foodstuffs aboard the 19th-century tall ship Elissa as part of an investigation into how well food preservation worked during the age of discovery. Photo by age fotostock/Alamy Stock Photo

 

An unprecedented archaeology experiment is putting historical shipboard food and drink to the test.

Original article:

Hakaimagazine.com

by Jeremy Hsu

In 1619, a hurricane sank the English merchant ship Warwick in Bermuda’s Castle Harbor. The struggling settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, were desperately awaiting the shipload of fresh supplies, and keenly felt the loss. Almost 400 years later, artifacts from the wreck are helping archaeologist Grace Tsai uncover if unrefrigerated food and drink remained edible and nutritious during long sea voyages.

Since 2012, Tsai, a doctoral candidate in nautical archaeology at Texas A&M University, has been studying archaeological records of provisions from three different shipwrecks from the 16th and 17th centuries and analyzing shipboard diets based on modern nutritional guidelines.

Now, Tsai and her colleagues are going one step further: for two months, they stored period-accurate provisions aboard the closest thing to the Warwick they could find—the 19th-century tall ship Elissa, docked in Galveston, Texas.

“The whole premise is to see how things age aboard ships,” Tsai says. Researchers, including her, have typically studied how to prepare food based on historical recipes, “but nobody has been testing how well they lasted on a transatlantic voyage.”

The two-month shipboard study took place from August to October 2017, and included its own hurricane scare, when Harvey swept through just a week into the experiment.

Now, Tsai and her colleagues are back in the lab, analyzing the provisions’ surviving nutritional value and investigating the microbes that grew on them. Chemical analyses could even reveal any remaining—or acquired—flavors.

Yet before they could get to this point, Tsai and her team had to make all the foodstuffs that would have sustained a 17th-century English sailor, such as salted meats, peas, oatmeal, tough ship biscuits, beer, wine, and a barrel of natural spring water. The project also included a variety of heirloom rice, which was more common in the diets of Spanish or Portuguese sailors.

To better understand the salted meats, Tsai traveled to Bermuda to study animal bones recovered from the Warwick’s wreck. Her examination of butcher marks on cattle bones helped her identify the best size to cut beef to enable preservation. The team also imported sea salt from Guérande, France, a region that has been producing salt for more than 1,000 years, which remains a chefs’ favorite.

Previously, scientists have tried to re-create food and drink from various historical periods. But independent experts agree that this project is an unprecedented experiment in maritime archaeology.

“[The experiment] would certainly be the closest we could come to replicating the stowage conditions of a sailing ship in that environment,” says Chuck Meide, director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program in Florida.

James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist and senior vice president at SEARCH, an independent archaeological consultancy in Florida, agrees. “While we’ve studied food waste and food based on archaeological remains, this is the first time, as far as I know, that someone has done experimental archaeology with shipboard provisions from that period.”

After their stint in the Elissa’s hold, many of the provisions still seem edible. For safety reasons, nobody will actually be tasting the experimental results, but the baked ship biscuits are in the best shape by far, a testament to their legendary hardiness. The salted beef, however, has taken on a pinkish center resembling prosciutto. It has a pungent smell, says Tsai, though it isn’t rotten.

A big exception is the natural spring water, which has turned cloudy with greenish bits and “smelled pretty disgusting,” Tsai says. Sailors may have preferred quenching their thirst with beer and wine, which remained more palatable. Still, a surprising amount of lingering yeast fermentation and carbonation caused the beer barrel to leak and grow mold.

Yet the biggest surprise came from the diversity of microbes found in some of the food. Early genomic sequencing analyses, mostly from the salted beef, suggest that many of the bacteria are neither illness-causing pathogens nor beneficial probiotics—most seem to be relatively neutral. The unexpected microbial bounty, however, has forced the researchers to expand their genomic sequencing efforts.

Even though no one is eating the food and drink stored aboard the Elissa, the team is organizing a fundraising event aboard the ship later this month to sample beer based on the historical recipe.

The event illustrates the project’s benefits beyond the research findings by getting more people interested in history and archaeology, says Meide. “There is something compelling about literally re-creating the past in order to learn about it.”

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